Keeping a Promise

Back in 2002 David von Drehle was taking his baby out for a peaceful drive in Estes Park, Colorado, and on impulse he asked his mother-in-law, Marilyn Sue Mohler Ball, if she would like to go along. As they headed toward town, Marilyn pointed to a turn-off and David took it.

It led to a pull off with a view of Long’s Peak.

“This is my favorite place in the whole world,” Marilyn said.

“We sat there looking and talking as the engine idled and the baby snored softly,” David wrote in a Washington Post article. “Somehow we wound up talking about climbing the mountain, which was just talk because Marilyn could not walk more than a couple of steps at that point.”

“Then I remember, clear as a bell. Mailyn’s sensible singsong. ‘Oh well,’ she said. ‘Maybe when I die, my ashes can get there.'”

“I answered without thinking. ‘If that ever happens and I’m still around, I’ll take you.'”

Three years later Marilyn died and David kept his word. But it wasn’t easy. He had to train hard and get an experienced mountaineer to go along. Marilyn’s son Jim went, too.

David did some research on state and federal law regarding scattering ashes and discovered it was best to adopt a “less said the better” attitude.

To make a long (ha ha) story short, they scattered the ashes and Jim read a passage from a poem by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow:

“Tell me not in mournful numbers
Life is but an empty dream —
For the soul is dead that slumbers
And things are not what they seem,

Life is real and life is earnest
And the grave is not its goal.
‘Dust thou art to dust returneth’
Was not spoken of the soul.”

“We took turns flilnging ash downwind until the bag was empty,” David continues. “We huddled together for a little prayer. Then we piled a half-dozen stones into a cairn to mark the spot, although I can’t say why or for whom we did that.”

I was struck by this article, reprinted in our local paper, because back in 1873 Isabella Bird and “Mountain Jim” Nugent climbed Long’s Peak. Miss Bird was thought to be the second woman to make the climb, although she confesses that Nugent all but carried her the whole way.

“Jim dragged me up like a bale of goods, by sheer force of muscle,” she writes.